Understanding Cholesterol & How To Get Healthier
Having high levels of cholesterol in your body is unhealthy, whether you’re old or young. However, for seniors, high cholesterol can be more serious, as underlying health problems can exacerbate the situation, and excessive bad cholesterol, in particular, can make it harder to get other health issues under control.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver that is essential for normal body functioning. Blood carries cholesterol around the body in lipoproteins. There are two types:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): LDL moves cholesterol around the body to cells that require it. The problem is that if too much cholesterol builds up in the arteries it can turn to plaque and lead to disease. For this reason, LDL is commonly known as bad cholesterol.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL is often known as good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from cells back to the liver where they are either broken down or passed as waste.
While cholesterol is absolutely essential and higher levels of HDL are a good thing, there is also plenty of evidence to show that high levels of LDL can increase the likelihood of artery disease. This is a problem at any age, but can be even more severe in the elderly.
What causes high cholesterol?
Apart from underlying medical conditions and family history, there are a number of other factors that can be controlled, including:
- Smoking. A chemical in cigarettes inhibits HDL carrying cholesterol to the liver from fatty deposits and causes arteries to narrow.
- Weight. The more overweight you are, the more the shorter-chained LDL’s are likely to deposit fat in the artery walls which turns into plaque.
- Alcohol. If you drink too much, your levels of LDL can increase.
- Diet. A diet high in saturated fat can put you at greater risk of high bad cholesterol levels.
- Exercise. If you’re not exercising, you are at risk.
What can you do to lower bad cholesterol?
Eat heart-healthy foods
A few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health:
- Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," are often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers, and cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils by Jan. 1, 2021.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don't affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in such foods as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, and pears.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein, which is found in dairy products, may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
Exercise on most days of the week and increase your physical activity
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Adding physical activity – even in short intervals several times a day – can help you begin to lose weight. To stay motivated, consider finding an exercise buddy or joining an exercise group.
Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level, and the benefits occur quickly:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike
- Within three months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve
- Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker
Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Small changes add up. Cut sugary drinks such as soda and juice out of your diet. Limit your intake of sweets such as candy and pastries.
Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking at the back of the parking lot. Take frequent walks during the day. Try to increase standing activities as well.
Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. However, the benefits are not strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn't already drink.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Helping you through the process
If your parent or loved one needs more help than you can provide, contact Oasis Senior Advisors for assistance. We offer resources for seniors and their families, as well as support and guidance every step of the way so you can feel confident in your senior housing selection. Deciding to make the move to a long-term care community is an emotional, financial, and physically taxing process, but you don’t have to do it alone.